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June 2023

My first second time

There’s a posthumously-published book authored by Thomas Clayton Wolfe titled, “You Can't Go Home Again”.  Here is how Goodreads describes it:

“George Webber has written a successful novel about his family and hometown. When he returns to that town he is shaken by the force of the outrage and hatred that greets him. Family and friends feel naked and exposed by the truths they have seen in his book, and their fury drives him from his home. He begins a search for his own identity that takes him to New York and a hectic social whirl; to Paris with an uninhibited group of expatriates; to Berlin, lying cold and sinister under Hitler's shadow. At last Webber returns to America and rediscovers it with love, sorrow, and hope.”

Many believe the adage “you can never go home” was derived from this book’s title. I suppose this saying has many interpretations, however I prefer this cautionary one: “Don’t go home expecting things to be the way you remember them - time moves on without you, and things change.”

Sticking with the book's theme for a the extreme, individuals who have been incarcerated for long periods of time can experience this phenomenon upon being granted parole. The author Stephen King touched on this in his 1982 novella “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption". Then in his 1994 movie adaptation of King's story (The Shawshank Redemption), director Frank Darabont rendered a brilliant exemplification when he expanded King’s portrayal of Brooks Hatlen’s parole from Shawshank Prison.

Four years ago, at the end of my Fulbright Scholar Grant experience, while discussing my possible return to Vietnam at some time in the future, I mentioned to a friend that it was too bad you can only have one “first time somewhere”. I went on to state that if I did make it back to Vietnam, it would not be the same; after all, you can never go home. Wisely, my Vietnamese friend Huy said, “Yes, Paul that is true, but you can always have a first second time”.

Well, here I am, 28 days shy of four years later, beginning my “first second time” in Vietnam. Fortunately, the first time I came to Vietnam I was wise enough to have set no expectations; therefore, I had no disappointments, shocks, or let downs. Treating this current experience as my “first second time”, I have arrived once again with no set expectations.

Interestingly, unlike the protagonist George Webber in Wolfe's "You Cant Go Home Again", I am not searching for my own identity; I know who I am and I like that person! That said, I have downloaded a copy of the Webber's book on my Kindle and will read all 711 pages....who knows, maybe George and I have something in common?

Wolfe, T. H. (1940). You Can't Go Home Again, New York, London, Harper & Row, 1940

King, S. (1982). Different Seasons, Viking Press


Week two and things are going well. I am over the dreaded jet lag and back on track! That said, I'm still in that early stage of acclimating to the environment and let me tell you, hot and humid is an understatement.

I have found a great coffee shop, literally (and I mean literally) less than one minute’s walk from my apartment complex! Wow, I had forgotten just how darn good Vietnamese coffee is! That said, the way coffee is brewed in Vietnam, it is not for the weak hearted…it is definitely brewed strong...wowser! When you order a mug of hot black coffee (một cốc cà phê đen nóng) or a mug of cold black coffee (một cốc cà phê đen lạnh), many coffee shops/restaurants will also give you a glass of plain water as a chaser. I’ll take a picture the next time I order up a “cuppa joe”.

Fun Fact: Vietnam is the number one producer and number two exporter of coffee (robusta) in the world!


Some can't go home moments:

  • It feels like there are noticeably more cars on the streets
  • The Grab app (like Uber) seems to have gotten more complicated to use
  • I kept my SIM card from the last time I was here thinking I would reuse it in my phone. Phftt....after one year of inactivity, it was deactivated.